The Heartland of Security Innovation
There was a heated discussion in the boardrooms of Vigilon in McLean, Va., and Tel Aviv, Israel. Where was the company going to locate its Center for Continual Vigilance? Israel was considered, but with research and development already established there, the company felt it needed to stretch out internationally. The executives lobbying for Canada, Atlanta and Virginia were all stressing the strengths of their favorite cities. In the end, the company made a surprising choice: Illinois. How did an exciting security technology company with a growing international presence select Illinois as its international research and training hub?
Jack Lavin knows the answer. His office worked tirelessly to win Vigilon’s affection. Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich tapped Lavin to head the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and create an environment where Illinois can compete successfully in the global economy. Lavin seemed like the best candidate having plenty of experience in large, small, public and private organizations, including the fast growing diagnostics division of Abbott Labs, followed by a stint working for then State Treasurer Pat Quinn, who is now Lt. Governor, and a period as a CFO of a small company.
Infrastructure RichSecurity is one of the top priorities for the Governor and for Lavin. If a security event occurs at an Illinois airport, like O’Hare International, air travel globally is affected. Similarly, with rail security in the state hosting among the largest flow of rail traffic in the U.S. Or if something hampers food processing safety in the highly agricultural state, air, rail and energy eco-systems are affected everywhere. Security in Illinois protects commerce and infrastructure around the world.
So Lavin and the Governor are making Illinois a center of excellence in security. But first they had to bust some heads, diplomatically speaking. Lavin, who studied in Seoul, South Korea and earned his MBA from University of Chicago, said the department’s success required breaking down walls and invading turf. Nearly a dozen bureaus spread across ten state regions made communication and cooperation very challenging. Today, Lavin says, business development, community development, tourism, homeland security, energy and recycling bureaus work closely with the office of trade and investment, film, workforce training, and technology and industrial competitiveness. This cooperation pays off. The government discovered job training in three different bureaus, now consolidated into one effort “to make sure we are not training for jobs that aren’t there.”
The office of trade and investment carries out more international trade missions now than ever before. It was during one of these missions to Israel that Lavin’s team made contact with Vigilon. “We had representatives from several bureaus showering the company with information about every aspect of economic life in Illinois. Vigilon saw a state dedicated to communication and interdepartmental cooperation.”
That sort of salesmanship seems to do the trick. Lavin’s department has helped create 77,000 new jobs in Illinois in 2006 and unemployment is at its lowest in state history.
Security, Tech AnchorsFifty years ago, defense spending in Silicon Valley built an infrastructure of technology innovation that today creates value for millions of consumers everyday. Lavin sees Illinois building the same type of environment. In Lavin’s view, security and technology are the anchors of the future economy.
Recruiting international security business is not the only priority in Illinois. The Governor wants to encourage innovation and investment in young Illinois companies. The state hosts summits in information technology and homeland security to help service providers and entrepreneurs understand the latest trends and best practices in state and federal procurement, regulations and priorities. In addition, there are 19 entrepreneurship centers around the state, headed at Northwestern University in Evanston. Young companies can receive grants up to $10,000 to take the edge off startup technical or legal costs. Security innovators may also apply for larger grants up to $150,000 get to the next level of research, product development, marketing or sales. For example, Illinois-based River Glass, a software company, won one of those grants and brought two new homeland security technologies to market while creating 20 new jobs in the state.
Jack Lavin, with the support of Governor Blagojevich, transformed a state agency from a dysfunctional, “siloed” organization to a proactive team focused on growing opportunities for security, bio-technology and innovation in general. With Vigilon and dozens of other prospective technology companies, Illinois may soon be known as the home of security innovation in the U.S.